What is a Retainer Fee for a Divorce Lawyer

No one expects divorce, and it can be a complicated process. You usually need the services of a divorce lawyer. 

What does a divorce lawyer cost? Some attorneys have a flat fee, while others require a retainer. 

So, what is a retainer fee for a divorce lawyer? The answer to this question varies depending on your situation. 

What is a Retainer Fee for a Divorce Lawyer?

What variables affect the question, “what is a retainer fee for a divorce lawyer?” 

A retainer fee is typical for divorce lawyers. A retainer fee is a down payment for the lawyer’s services. At the very least, it represents an estimate of how much the lawyer thinks it will cost, both in fees and administrative costs, to handle the case. 

The lawyer must place the retainer in a trust account separate from their business account. They then deduct the costs of services that they offer the client from that trust account.

Are attorney retainer fees refundable? The retainer fee may or may not be refundable, though sometimes a court can rule that a non-refundable retainer fee is unreasonable. Usually, any money remaining at the end of the case gets refunded. If the retainer runs out during the case, the client may have to pay additional fees to the lawyer.

The lawyer usually sends a monthly account statement to the client, showing how many hours of service they offered for the month multiplied by their hourly rate. You can use this statement to monitor the costs.

Usually, a retainer may cover lawyer’s fees and court costs and other administrative costs. However, sometimes the retainer may only include fees. In this case, you may get a bill for additional charges later.

Are Attorney Retainers Refundable?

Depending on the lawyer, the case, and the circumstances, the retainer fee might be refundable. Sometimes, a court can rule that non-refundable retainers fees are unreasonable in your case and grant the fee returned in your favor. 

In most cases, the money remaining at the end of the case is refunded. The retainer exists to ensure the services of the lawyer for the entire proceedings, and if the monetary amount is overdrawn during the case, there may be additional fees needed from the client.

Yes. While an attorney might require that the client pay anticipated legal services and costs in advance, any unearned funds from the lawyer must be returned to the client at the end of their relationship. Non-refundable retainers cannot be charged for rendered legal services.

Do All Lawyers Charge a Retainer Fee?

Almost all cases involving a lawsuit or trial require a retainer fee. Attorneys charge retainer fees so that they can support you during the entirety of your case, to ensure uninterrupted representation. This is worked out through a retainer fee contract.

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Average Retainer Fee for a Divorce Court

What is the average retainer fee for a divorce lawyer?

The exact retainer fee that a Kennewick divorce lawyer charges varies, making it difficult to determine the average retainer fee. 

What is a typical retainer fee attorney? Some lawyers charge retainer fees of $1000, while others charge $5000+. Depending on the lawyer and the complexity of your case, you can usually expect to pay a retainer fee of between $3000 and $5000.

What Does an Attorney Retainer Fee Cover?

What is a retainer fee for a divorce lawyer? A retainer fee may cover a lot of things, depending on the agreement you have with your divorce attorney.

A retainer fee covers your divorce case’s expenses and initial legal work. This can include meetings, communications, research, drafting legal documents, preparing for court appearances, and negotiations/mediations. This fee provides the client with peace of mind that their attorney will be there when they need them.

  • You can expect the retainer agreement to describe the exact amount you will pay, including how the fees for other law firm employees who will work on your case.
  • The retainer agreement will also contain details of how the attorney will manage the trust account. Typically, the retainer agreement will outline when the attorney can transfer funds to their business account.
  • Any additional costs covered by the retainer get mentioned in the contract. These extras could include court costs, copy fees, and administrative fees.

Can A Lawyer Charge You For Phone Calls?

If your lawyer is charging you an hourly fee, they may bill you for small additional tasks such as drafting emails or answering phone calls. All lawyers charge for their time differently and round up, so you should check with your lawyer to find out how they do their billing.

Can a Lawyer Charge you Without Telling You?

There might be hidden fees or charges under your agreement you are not aware of. Contact your attorney if there is an issue with your bill, and know the ins and outs of the status of your written agreement. Always ask about costs and fees related to time and representation.

Consequences Of Not Paying Attorney Fees

In some cases, lawyers can coerce a payment by asserting what is called an “attorney’s lien” over part of a former client’s case file, if they are waiting on a payment. This can place the client in a poor position depending on what part of the case or transaction is left over, as the lawyer might demand part of the attorney fee in exchange for papers necessary in the continuing legal matter. Traditionally lawyers are pressed to remain in good faith—they are pressed to adhere to their duty, assist in an orderly transition to new counsel, or minimize prejudice toward their former client.

Benefits of Retainer Arrangement for Divorce Case

There are benefits to a retainer arrangement with a Kennewick law firm when handling a divorce case:

Immediate Legal Advice

What does a retainer fee for an attorney cover? When you’re managing a divorce, time and information are vital factors, so it is essential to get an expert to give you advice on what options are open to you. 

Once you pay a retainer, you are immediately entitled to the attorney’s legal advice and time, making it possible to get guidelines on how to handle everything.

How Does a Divorce Lawyer Charge?

What is a typical retainer fee attorney? It depends on your agreement with the lawyer

Retainer Fee

As mentioned above, a retainer fee is simply a down payment to cover some of the divorce attorney’s fees and the other costs of the case. It may or may not be refundable, depending on the circumstances.

Hourly Fee

Most lawyers charge for their services by the hour, and they use their hourly rate to calculate the retainer fee by multiplying it by the expected number of hours they will work. If a lawyer charges $250 per hour and intends to work on a case for a total of 12 hours, the total fee will be $3000. 

Some lawyers will also use different hourly rates depending on the nature of work. For example, a lawyer may charge $250 per hour for legal research and $350 to appear in court. However, some lawyers also have a flat rate to simplify billing for their clients.

Flat Fee

In some cases, you do not need to answer the question how much is a retainer fee for a divorce lawyer. You may not need to pay a retainer for a divorce lawyer. Some lawyers may charge a flat fee instead of an hourly rate. This set amount covers the entire case. 

The fee depends on the type of case and may change depending on circumstances. For example, a divorce attorney may charge $2000 for an uncontested divorce, with the provision that they will charge by the hour if it switches to a contested case in the middle of proceedings. 

Flat fees are relatively uncommon because they require both parties to be in complete agreement on all the terms of the case.  

Be sure to read reviews of a law firm online before engaging in dealings with them, and read the fine print before signing a fee agreement of any kind. A retainer fee for a divorce lawyer may be the better option if you are unsure about what the flat fee covers.

Consultation Fee

A consultation fee is a fee paid for a first time consultation with a divorce lawyer. It is relatively uncommon since most family law attorneys provide consultation for free. 

These initial consultations often include discussions of what to expect from a divorce. The lawyer will also offer guidelines for how to conduct yourself during the process.

Do Lawyers Work On Contingency?

Some lawyers, called contingency lawyers, work on a contingency fee basis—they agree to work on their client’s case for a percentage of the total monetary damages if the case is won. Not all lawyers will work on a contingency basis since it requires quite a bit of work without pay on part of the attorney. Many lawyers are not set up to handle cases this way.

Do Attorneys Have Payment Plans?

Most lawyers will work with you to come up with a structured payment plan for their services. Any attorney that installs a payment plan will ask you to make regular installments, though it’s a good idea to check with your lawyer and ask how they handle their fees.


While divorce is an unpleasant process, it can be made easier by planning for it in advance. By getting answers to the question “how much does a divorce cost?” one can prepare to pay the divorce lawyer retainer fee. 

Picture of JARROD HAYS


Jarrod Hays is the founder of Skyview Law. He is licensed to practice law in Washington State and the Western District of Washington State Federal Court.

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